Your Insider’s Guide to the San Diego Zoo

photo: Kevin Verbeem

Ready to go have a wild day with your little party animals? Our very own world famous San Diego Zoo is a short drive away and a super fun and educational outing with your kids. If you haven’t been to the Zoo recently, you’ll be delighted by what’s new. A must-see is the Africa Rocks exhibit, where from the savannah grasslands to the tropical rainforest, you wind your way through six new habitats of African terrain! Finding your favorite animal is easy too. You’ll see lions, jaguars, elephants, giant pandas (which are only at two zoos in the world!), monkeys and koalas, to name a few. Read on for tips on planning your ultimate day at the San Diego Zoo.

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photo: Nikki Walsh

Getting Around
The 45-minute guide-led tram is the perfect way to start your visit. First, the tram covers 65% of the zoo, plus, you get the latest zoo news. Whether you sit up top or down below on the double-decker bus, you’re sure to get a comprehensive view of the whole zoo. Also, it’s a great way to decide which animals to see and how to get there. Other modes of transportation are walking the Zoo, taking the sky tram across the Zoo or hopping aboard the Kangaroo bus to your next spot.

photo: San Diego Zoo/Christina Simmons

New Conrad Prebys Africa Rocks Exhibit
Experience Africa, from the rocky shores, savannah, forest and highlands including six terrains. (Note: no buses go through this exhibit). You’ll stroll past active baboons, meerkats, leopards, lemurs and many more furry friends along the large winding path. (We love the path because there’s plenty of room for everyone). Also, we recommend starting at the top of the exhibit and strolling down toward the penguins. You’ll end up looking at the sandy shores of endangered African penguins. Africa Rocks is the Zoo’s most ambitious project to date. It’s 8-acres and cost a whopping $65 million to build. Definitely a must-see.

photo: Art Brom

Walk the Trails
Whether you like tigers and hippos or monkeys and gators, taking one of these gently sloping trails is easy with the tots in tow. You’ll end up at the bottom of the hill near the giant panda exhibit. Likewise, the pandas are well worth a visit. If walking isn’t in the cards, then grab the Kangaroo bus down to your favorite exhibit. Be sure to pick up a map at the Zoo entrance so you can navigate the trails like a pro.

photo: San Diego Zoo

Giant Pandas
Only four zoos in the U.S. have giant pandas and these cuties are a can’t-miss. It’s good to get to the exhibit early in the day as this a popular spot. Afterward, if tykes are hungry, the Hua Mei Café is a good place to get a bite to eat. There you’ll find fare from potstickers and teriyaki chicken to burgers and grilled chicken sandwiches. There’s also a bathroom stop and cute panda gift shop at the same spot.

photo: Lyla D. via Yelp

Polar Bears, Elephants, Rhinos and Giraffes
Another cool animal spot is the Polar Bear Plunge. The bears are very active and love to play in the water and roll in the snow. Then head to the Elephant Odyssey, spot the elephant getting groomed or eating in the creative food dispensers. And finally, the rhinos and giraffes (they’re close in proximity to each other) are a definite delight. Bonus: you’ll find a new young giraffe who’s a recent family addition!

photo: Nikki Walsh

Children’s Zoo
If your little ones want to run around after being in the stroller all day, the playground in the Children’s Zoo is the perfect spot. Another cool feature at the Children’s Zoo is the giant camouflage bugs and insects exhibit. Littles love to check out the creepy crawlies. Look carefully, because some are hard to spot.

photo: San Diego Zoo Safari Park

What’s Happening Now
Yaycation at the Zoo is going on from March 24th to April 8th, 2018. You’ll find extra activities like a photo-op with Mr. Easter Bunny. Further, plant experts wow you with stories about the Zoo’s huge plant collection and there are special interactions with animals like the elephants, gorillas and more.

Butterfly Jungle (at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park, not the Zoo) is taking place from March 10th to April 15th, 2018. You’ll find yourself surrounded by 30 different butterfly species from North to Central America. Even more, new this year is a behind the scenes butterfly tour. Click here for our guide to enjoying the Butterfly Jungle.


photo: San Diego Zoo/Christina Simmons

Roarin’ Brand New Bronze Statue
Don’t miss the brand new and beautiful bronze statue of “Rex” the lion at the Zoo entrance. At over 27-feet tall and 20,000 pounds, Rex is the largest cantilever bronze animal statue in the world. Thousands of hours of craftsmanship and expert engineering enable Rex to carry his weight on one paw! Don’t miss this epic photo opportunity to start or cap off your Zoo visit!

photo: San Diego Zoo/Christina Simmons

Tips for a fun zoo-day!

  • Go early in the day, or right when the Zoo opens! It’s less crowded and cooler in temperature.
  • Rent It! Strollers and lockers are available, but you can B.Y.O.S (bring-your-own-stroller) too!
  • Bring water and plenty of snacks, and if you want to, pack a lunch.
  • Wear comfortable walking shoes! You’ll be walking a great deal to all your adventures.
  • Sunscreen and hats are a must too, as you’ll be in the sun all day.
  • Take a fully charged camera or smartphone because there will be lots of photo opportunities!
  • We like to eat at the Sabertooth Grill by the Elephant Odyssey. Bonus: you’ll find a nice covered outdoor eating area. Another option is Sydney’s Grill conveniently located near the giraffe feeding area. Note: You can bring food and water to the zoo (just not a whole ice chest!) Click here for all of the Zoo’s dining options.

The San Diego Zoo
Balboa Park
2920 Zoo Dr.
San Diego, Ca

BUY YOUR ZOO TICKETS BY CLICKING HERE. We suggest having even more fun by opting to buy the annual passes which give you a full year of free unlimited admission to both the San Diego Zoo and San Diego Zoo Safari Park, plus perks like shopping & dining discounts, invitations to Member-only events and more.

Do you have any must-know zoo tips? Let us in on them below!

––Nikki Walsh

featured photo: Paul B. via Yelp


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